Thursday, April 29, 2010

No lines ( or line-ups) in the Kingdom of God

It is our Christian duty not to draw lines around who is in and who is out, who is welcome and who is not. It is a Christian discipline to care, and act in abundance, because all things we have, are not ours, but are from the One who made all things and holds all things in being

It's Margaret

Monday, April 19, 2010

How about a little prophetic leadership please?

(Knocking of the door of the American HOB) Hello... Anybody awake in there?

(Knocking at 815) C’mon folks, doesn’t anyone have something to say on this matter? Katherine? Bonnie? Please?

(Knocking at the doors of The Trinity Institute, The Alban Institute, The Consultation)
C’mon folks, where’s your voice?

What I’m trying to muster in the above scenario is an effective response to is the latest bit of flimlammery and blatant misrepresentation from the schismatic voices of the radical right. In this case from David Bena, the retired Suffragan Bishop of Albany N.Y. who has also chosen to leave TEC for his own reasons.

It may not have made national headlines; the only reason I know of Mr. Bena’s recent public misrepresentations up here in Montreal is due to the good services of a treasured friend and living gift to our Church- Grandmère Mimi who posted on a recent opinion piece by the former Amercian suffragan bishop in the Richmond Times Dispatch. An opinion piece which has, far as I can tell, gone unchallenged in the public discourse except for Mimi’s post and the great work of Openly Episcopal in Albany

Not that I’d want to do anything to further Mr. Bena’s personal confusion- I mean, he has apparently continued to preach and celebrate at times within venues of the Episcopal Church, inspite of his very public departure and his equally public opinions. But a lie is still a lie, and I can’t help but ask where is the prophetic rebuttal from any quarter within our Church- other than the faithful Grandmère Mimi and the folks at Openly Episcopal in Albany.

I mean brother David did choose to make this public. And in such a situation I think it is more than obvious that his misrepresentation must be engaged in a similar quarter.

The first two sentences from his piece would suffice:

The painful irony is that TEC's decision to reject the authority of God's Word has been gravely injurious, and has itself caused the very division that TEC's leaders claimed they sought to avoid. Once someone rejects Scripture, then they reject Jesus Christ and Christianity as a whole.

Either former suffragan Bena has been suffering from a serious medical condition which has kept him painfully unaware of the last several decades of events both within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, or he is intentionally, and I would suggest maliciously misrepresenting the current reality.

And surely our Church can do better than yours truly for publicly rebutting these misrepresentations; but for the record:

Neither the people or the leadership of The Episcopal Church has at any time rejected either the authority of God’s Word, the lordship of our saviour Jesus Christ- or the implications of either articles of our living faith.

It is not the leadership of the Episcopal Church, but rather individuals such as yourself, Mr. Bena, who have chosen this ‘very division’ which has resulted from your personal opinions and actions, and resulted in the gravely injurious damage our Church has undergone. It is you sir who have chosen the path of schism, litigation, and if your most recent public utterance is any example, also chosen the path of wilful misrepresentation.

In addition, I would suggest that your objectification of Holy Scripture as a static, inerrant record not only denies decades of important Scriptural scholarship; it also suggests idolatry to be the standard of faithful Christian practice in your personal opinion.

Contrary to Mr. Bena's recent public misrepresentation of the current reality, I would suggest that of all of the provinces of our beloved Church, it is The Episcopal Church who has most prophetically, faithfully and courageously embodied our vocation to meet and engage the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of our redeemed lives and our vocation to be the living Body of Christ.

One need look no further than the methodology and practice at the recent Anaheim General Convention:

It was prayerfully transparent- one has only to ask any delegate about the weight of documentation provided in advance for their study, prayer and reflection.

It was intentionally structured, in both its public liturgies and collegial reflections to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in that time and place.

It actively referenced all three principles of Anglican practice- Holy Scripture, Tradition & Intelligence, in its practice, and determinations.

And I might add, it was incarnational when our priests and bishops left their councils to march in solidarity with the exploited workers of the Disney corporation.

Which brings me to my real point- which for lack of a better term I might call the Palin effect- hopefully without giving that poor, misguided individual too much credit.

As patently obvious as Mr. Bena’s misrepresentations might be to many of us, the fact is he has made them in a very public venue. They have been read and resonated with some who may not have taken the time and effort to follow and prayerfully, critically evaluate recent events within our Church. Individuals who, for a variety of other personal reasons, may feel Mr. Bena’s misrepresentations speaks to or confirms their own feelings of powerlessness, isolation or personal frustration.

It is my sense that this is how phenomena like Ms. Palin and her ilk gained traction and momentum, and I would suggest that the time is long passed when our Church can afford to allow public spectacles such as Mr. Bena’s misrepresentation to go unchallenged.

It’s called leadership. It’s called accountability-necessarily public accountability only because of the venue Mr.Bena has chosen.

As long as we as a Church remain silent in the face of such misrepresentations we essentially allow individuals such as Mr. Bena to define the current reality within our Church in the public sector.

We need look no further than Ms. Palin’s public visibility, the ‘inches of ink’ she continues to receive, the crowds who turn out to listen to her divisive, skewed take on reality, to see what I am suggesting.

It is my sense that the Democratic Party and the American public made a serious mistake when they settled for mocking and effectively underestimating the former governor of Alaska. And as a result they effectively allowed her the unchallenged airtime and space to create her own version of ‘truth on the ground.’

In the instance of Mr. Bena, I would suggest what is at stake here is our vocation to act as the living Body of Christ. We might individually recognize his recent piece for the misrepresentation for what it is, but as members of the Body of Christ we do have a responsibility towards our brothers and sisters who for whatever reason are not likewise engaged with the current adventure of engaging with the Holy Spirit in the inescapable sacrament of our lives of faith.

I might also suggest that if the best our Church can do in this current instance is the witness of my personal Queen of the South (Grandmère Mimi) and yours truly, we might indeed be in some degree of real difficulty.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What are they so afraid of?

An interesting conversation the other evening with someone calling long-distance in the hope I’d be ready to join her in a point-by-point tussle with the House of Bishops report on what they insist on calling ‘Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church’.
‘Haven’t you even read it?’ she asked with some incredulity, a frustrated rustling of her thoroughly notated hardcopy version in the background.

‘Skimmed it,’ I admitted. ‘It’s really doesn’t interest me-‘

‘-What.... wait a minute, what’s going on here? When you and I first connected online it was just how much you obviously care and the standard you hold our Church to which had me sending you that first e-mail.’

‘That was before Lambeth,’ I reminded my friend.

‘So how about answering the question then... what’s going on that you’ve only skimmed what just might be the most prophetic challenge to date to the Anglican purity police?’

‘Hardly prophetic, and you’re forgetting ‘Claiming the Blessing’ and a lot of other great work by Integrity USA; to say nothing of the witness of The Chicago Consultation- now that’s living into a new day for our Church.’

‘O.K.... So tell me.’

‘You could start with the title- ‘Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church,’ not only is it implicitly hetero-centric in its methodology; our church is once again objectifying my people according to their genital combination. Likewise the title completely overlooks the fact that the vast majority of LGBT people are still outside the Church because of the hurt, discrimination, objectification and rejection they have experienced at the hands of that same Church. Talk about a convenient omission.’


‘This title is not only an insulting & dishonest representation of the current reality, it suggests the whole exercise really isn’t going anywhere.’

‘Same-old, same old you mean?’

‘Exactly- where’s even the slightest suggestion of something new- of a prophetic possibility?’

‘Well it is meant to be a discussion paper?’

‘Without any real methodology it’s meaningless. If you just throw it out there without either a supported context or the accountability of a timeline nothing really has to happen- no consequences.’

‘Such as?’

‘Where’s the website for people to register their life experience and their insights from reading the report, to share their sense of where our Church is being led? And just exactly where is this paper supposed to be heading? Without an open frank engagement which is able to benefit from the insights and experience of all the faithful it’s essentially an empty exercise. Even worse would be if it were simply voted on by the House of Bishops- talk about curia syndrome.’

‘Curia syndrome?’

‘When certain quarters within our Church forget themselves and start acting like some outpost of the Vatican.’

‘Wow... so how would you have cast the exercise?’

‘How about calling it exactly what it is supposed to be- ‘A New Thing’?’

‘Open-ended enough for.... prophetic possibilities.’

‘And the recognition of the hurtful and exclusionary experiences of the Church by too many LGBT people.’

‘No hetero-centric objectification there... so why d’you think they settled for what they did?’

‘Because maybe, just maybe in some quarters, certain individuals still don’t really get what’s going on in our Church?’

‘Sounds like our old conversation about magisterial or experiential theology- patriarchy or the people of God.’

‘Exactly! Either the Holy Spirit is alive and very much at work in our lives and in our Church-‘

‘ – doing a new thing.’

‘ - or the value and meaning of our lives have to be governed by a bunch of pre-Reformation clerics who believed the world was flat.’

‘You know something; you just might be right about that “curia syndrome.” The moment you mentioned ‘magisterial’ the image of the current pope came to mind.’

‘The hot button issues for me were the conservatives resorting to natural law as a standard of any value in a discussion of faith, that and the repeated use of the word ‘normative.’

‘Comparing us to penguins I call it.’

‘Ironic that they published during Lent too.... As if what happened Good Friday and at Easter didn’t once and for all overthrow natural law as a standard for anything in Christian Life... And normative! The term just doesn’t apply if you truly believe in the Incarnation and the crucifixion of the very Son of God-‘

‘and his resurrection!’

‘Exactly... and even penguin colonies include monogamous gay relationships.’

‘They’re really scrambling, aren’t they?’

‘Scared witless, as a certain friend used to say.’

‘Scripture does tell us it’s a terrible and frightening thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’

‘So... what you’re really saying-‘

‘- is more of the same old-same old. Magisterial patriarchy or experiential faith, that's what's going on here. Recognizing and embracing the implicit sacramental nature of the lives we’ve been given, or trying to filter twenty-first century life through cloistered, patriarchal minds of the magisterium. Listening and engaging with the people of God as partners in the Body of Christ or secret committees handing down pronouncements.’

‘There’s Rowan’s old listening exercise again-‘

‘- and just how much has anyone seen of that?’

‘You know, sometimes you really don’t help... I mean, what am I supposed to do with this?’ An audible thump on the other end of the line as she obviously slams down her hardcopy on her table or desk. ‘I mean, I can’t just ignore it. We’re supposed to be discussing the danged thing, and even then, what is any of that ever going to change?’

‘A couple of hearts perhaps, and that would be a start.’


‘How about asking the congregation what they want to do with it, how they want to handle the report?’

‘At least this time we won’t end up with two of the congregation coming out to everyone.’

‘Not those two at least.’

‘You know... that was really a transformative moment- for most of us at least. I mean one of the men was going through a divorce none of us understood. It reminded me of Gene’s story, when his wife stood there beside him, holding his hand as he shared with us.’

‘Talk about a new thing.’

‘I still tear up talking about it.’

‘I can hear your sniffles.’

The conversation didn’t end there. Among other things my friend shared with me the sheer blessedness of her early morning walk with her two dogs at the beach; her and her husband watching the sunrise and sharing a thermos of coffee. We prayed together, celebrated the blessedness of our connection, and our love for our Church, but even now, days later what keeps coming to mind is my friend’s question- ‘what are they so afraid of- the conservatives?’

Oh, and that’s another thing, the two of us have recast our vocabulary for this current discussion in our Church. It’s not even real conservatism- they’re traditionalists. And ‘liberal’ is a complete misrepresentation of our experience and understanding. For a couple of minutes we toyed with ‘experiential Christians;’ my friend, reminding me she was born below the Mason-Dixon Line even floated ‘real-time Anglicans.’ Nothing quite captured the sheer wonder of trying to mindfully step each day into the inescapable sacrament of our lives.

But it will come, as long as we’re open to it. It always does.

Before originally posting this, as I always do, I’d passed it by my friend who assured me I’d captured the essence of our sharing.

Since then, we’ve spoken twice:

When she called to share her experience of presenting the report without editorial comment to her congregation, asking for a sense of what they might like to do with the opportunity.

‘What was really incredible was at both services the clear sense was people want to engage with it- to study it and then get together to discuss it. A couple of people really pressed for my take on it, but I told them, I wasn’t going to be saying anything until I’d heard from each and every one of them. So we’re distributing it electronically tomorrow- Monday; and hardcopies will be available at the office.’

The second call was just last evening, when among other things she reminded me of just how little real analysis or editorial comment there’s been online about the report.

‘Maybe you were right- it’s really got little or nothing to do with the real transformational process going on.’

‘It’s the old magisterial way of doing things, and just maybe the people of God have essentially gone beyond that- a long time ago.’

‘By their fruits,’ my friend reminded me, resorting to the shorthand of good friends.

And yes, before we closed off we prayed together- for her particular pastoral concern, for many we both love, and for the Church- hard to live with her, but... well you get my drift.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

There’s been a quote dancing on my spirit for the last many days, and it's not been an easy or comfortable experience. It's from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'Letters & Papers from Prison'.

The resonances to this particular quote are several:

The Easter experience of a young friend of mine fighting her second bout of cancer and she’s barely in her twenties. When she showed up with her head swaddled in a turban at Easter Mass, a well-meaning, very pious individual insisted on assuring her that ‘it’s all in God’s hands, but it’s a mystery,’ all my friend had to do was pray. And that’s when my friend lost it- out there in the Church parking lot.

Another would be my deep concern for another very dear friend who has pretty much isolated herself and is living through some pretty rough duhkkha- the hollowness of life right now. This individual too was a child of the Church- a long time ago, and has done rather well for herself- materially. Only her conspicuous consumption is getting pretty close to the limits of its anaesthetic effectiveness, and her ‘management skills’ are keeping us all at what I’ve been calling a dangerous distance in my practice.

And then there’s the on-going scandals and revelations about sexual abuse- both pedophilia and misogyny in the Church of Rome

The quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'Letters and Papers from Prison' and for me speaks to all of the above suffering.

My haunting/wrestling/ prayer has been referencing this quote in two separate parts:

Jesus asked in Gethsemane, 'Could you not watch with me one hour?' That is a reversal of what the religious person expects from God. Humans are summoned to share in God's sufferings at the hands of a godless world. We must therefore really live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. We must live a 'secular' life, and thereby share in God's sufferings.

I admit, reading what might almost be mistaken as yet another rant about ‘a godless world’ and more particularly ‘God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world’ was almost enough to have me clicking ‘Delete’. But this was Bonhoeffer, an old friend whose personal integrity & suffering humanity go unchallenged in my house, whose ‘suffering at the hands of a godless world’ is part of the historical record. .

The cutting edge for me- once again, too often of late- was to find another ‘official voice’ of organized religion objectifying and vilifying God’s creation for their own ends. Yes, Bonhoeffer does go on to tell us:
‘We must therefore really live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other.’
But once again, there’s that distant objectification of God’s creation, and if that weren’t enough, he goes on to tell us we must live’ a 'secular' life, and thereby share in God's sufferings.’

Now before anyone rushes unnecessarily to brother Dietrich’s defense, let me assure you I am only too aware of the conditions under which the sainted man was writing- from a nazi prison, there for his heroic resistance to a godless regime if there ever was one. Rather, what I was so deeply shaken by was the implicit duality in the first part of his quote- both in its analysis and its proposed solution and the ramifications of this duality.

My reaction, of course is a reflection of the time in which I live, and so the weeks during which I have returned again and again to this quote have been as much as anything an expression great respect with which I cherish Bonhoeffer’s integrity. That said, however:

A godless world?

A concept I would suggest which is both an insult to the Creator and his/her Creation; possible only if one has reduced God to an idol; revelation to a time-limited offer, and Life itself in all its dazzling diversity to a static reality contained by the limits of first century c.e. understanding.

A godless world?

A dualistic lie implicitly denying not only of the living, active presence of the Holy Spirit herself among us, but of God’s love for her/his Creation- a love embodied most tangibly in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.


And just how much of this ‘godlessness’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuated by the vested interests of official religon ? A inevitable outcome of the objectification, not only of God’s creation itself, but more specifically of the transactional codification of the life of faith, the objectification & denigration of our sisters and their bodies, the manipulation of Scripture, the objectification and wanton exploitation of our universe, and most recently of the vilification of God’s gay and lesbian sons and daughters- all at the hands of those who claim to speak ‘officially’ for the Living God?

I would be far from the first to suggest that ‘organized religions’ just might bear an inordinate share of responsibilities for the suffering, the sorrow and the grief of God; a possibility which informs my understanding of much of what is going on currently in the Vatican, the halls of Lambeth and certain councils of Islam.

To quote another dear friend ‘the vested interests see it as a breaking apart, the ordinary person of faith sees it as a welcome, long overdue breaking-open.’

Which brings one to Bonhoeffer’s solution: a ‘secular’ life.

More dualism.

More us/them- a paradigm I believe God and creation itself has grown impatient with, a prissy conceit, objectification and inequal sharing of resources which life itself can no longer sustain.

At the risk of stating the obvious I’d suggest there’s but One life, One Creation, One God and one race- the human one, anything less is an obscene lie.

As one of the many hundreds of thousands of alienated Christians in this province very pointedly asked me recently- ‘Where’s the Church following its own example in this disgusting mess: confessing, repenting, doing penance- maybe even making reparation? South Africa had its ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission founded by the very victims of its ‘godless’ past, you telling me they knew better than God’s ‘official mouthpiece’ ? Sounds to me like the Vatican needs your Desmond Tutu to teach them a thing or two.’ If only!

But thankfully, brother Dietrich doesn’t end there.

To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be human--not a type of human, but the human that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.

Which I guess was what I was trying to explain to another ‘alienated Christian’ over Easter- that the real and only question is what we’re doing with ‘the one inescapable sacrament.’

Startled, she started listing off the seven sacraments of the Church. ‘And which one of the seven is inescapable? Baptism perhaps?’ she chuckled.

‘The gift of life, ‘ I suggested, only after a pause for dramatic effect, ‘all the others are detailing.’

This has perhaps been one of the most challenging, most interesting and most engaging Lents of many for me personally, which in some small part might be reflected by what I’ve just written. The errors and any inaccuracies in this post are mine, but the offering, at least in part is made in love and very real gratitude for the ongoing love and prayers – for the priesthood of two much beloved siblings in Christ- P.S. and M.W., whose personal integrity and passionate, prophetic faith are a constant source of blessing for me personally, and a wondrous, if underappreciated gift to our Church